Bioethics Blogs

Do we really need an even better prenatal test for Down syndrome?

Chris Kaposy challenges the need for further developments in prenatal testing for Down syndrome.


The journal Clinical Proteomics recently published an article describing a new experimental prenatal test for Down syndrome that uses only a maternal urine sample. The test has been touted in the media as providing instant results with 90% accuracy. The promise of such a test – if it ever comes to market – is that women could administer it at home, early in pregnancy, with low cost.

Prenatal testing for Down syndrome and other aneuploidies is a rapidly advancing field. In the past few years, biotech companies have developed prenatal Down syndrome tests that detect cell-free fetal DNA in the pregnant woman’s blood. These tests have been dubbed “non-invasive prenatal tests” because they provide highly accurate results without having to resort to invasive tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which carry a risk of miscarriage. The new urine test for Down syndrome, developed by the biotech firm MAP Diagnostics Ltd., is the latest advance in a “corporate arms race” to develop prenatal tests for Down syndrome that are accurate and less invasive, cheaper, easier to administer, and that can be administered earlier in pregnancy than previous methods of testing.

A majority of the time, a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome leads to a selective termination of the pregnancy. As I have argued elsewhere, because of their ease of use and their non-invasiveness, the new non-invasive prenatal tests for Down syndrome could contribute to increased numbers of selective terminations of pregnancy.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.